WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. - Crews with the National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Navy will begin to recover the wreckage of a floatplane that crashed off Whidbey Island earlier this month.
Beginning early Tuesday morning, teams began an operation that will continue non-stop with 12-hour shifts until the wreckage is back above water. Equipped with an underwater drone, a large crane and a team of specialists the work could last days – potentially into the weekend, according to a spokesperson.
"Obviously, very tragic," said Cedar Rossel, a resident who stopped by during his lunch break to watch the team working a few hundred yards off the island.
The plan is to use a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Drone 8000, a barge and a crane to recover the wreckage from the seafloor. Once the barge is outfitted and in place, it will be a 24/7 operation.
"I’m just blown away by the severity of the crash," he said. "I would assume the seaplane would have just set down on the water if it had any issues. So, I’m curious to hear what led to it being such a catastrophic crash."
Officials said the crane will lift the aircraft wreckage pieces. The ROV will work on the seafloor collecting smaller pieces of wreckage into baskets and connecting the wreckage to the crane to be lifted.
On Sept. 4, a floatplane with 10 people onboard crashed near Mutiny Bay.
Boaters noted that the plane quickly disappeared – with little wreckage in the water immediately after the plane hit the water at a high-speed, causing a plume of water to extend in the air and a loud bang that could be heard from a great distance away on the island.
Only one body was found during the first 48-hours in the water. The search, which lasted well into the second-day was eventually called off. The other nine people aboard are presumed dead.
The U.S. Coast Guard handled the initial investigation, but the NTSB has come in to determine what caused the plane to physically crash.
A spokesperson said that investigation will take time, months beyond any wreckage being retrieved. A typical NTSB investigation lasts between 12-24 months.
About a week later, the NTSB and the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory used sonar technology locate the wreckage on the seafloor. But due to the depth and the current, crews needed to send down a remotely operated vehicle to recover it.
The crash investigation remains ongoing.